With their Champions League group delicately poised, Chelsea host Shakhtar Donetsk at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday (7.45pm GMT) looking for a positive result following defeat in the Ukraine two weeks ago.
Chelsea are currently second in the group on four points, three shy of leaders Shakhtar. Juventus are third on three points, while the Danish side Nordsjaelland prop up the group with a single point to their credit.
The Blues come into the match on the back of a 1-1 draw away to Swansea on Saturday, the third time they have failed to win in their last four matches in all competitions. Coach Roberto Di Matteo was deprived of the services of Juan Mata and David Luiz for that fixture, but appears hopeful both will be fit to face Shakhtar.
His side really need to secure maximum points on Wednesday. If Juventus win at home to Nordsjaelland a draw for Chelsea would put the Italians in a strong position, knowing that victory when they host Chelsea in Turin would eliminate Di Matteo’s men.
Shakhtar really went for Chelsea in the first meeting between the sides, leaving just their defensive midfielder Tomas Hubschman to cover while the two full-backs and his central midfielder partner Fernandinho drove forward to support the front four.
With the two wide attacking midfielders tending to drift infield rather than stick to their initial positions, Shakhtar were consistently able to get the two full-backs into space out wide, particularly the right-back Dario Srna. Part of the problem for Chelsea was that their rotating attacking midfield trio of Eden Hazard, Mata and Oscar all looked to work in central areas, which often left the flanks unguarded if the home side launched a quick attack.
It could be argued that this should not be such a problem at Stamford Bridge, as Shakhtar may be expected to commit less men forward than they did in the Donbass Arena. However, the Ukrainians showed in their 1-1 draw at Juventus earlier in the group that they are certainly not lacking in ambition away from home. In fact, they should really have come away from Turin with all three points.
John Terry played in the heart of the Chelsea defence in Donetsk, but has not played in the intervening two weeks due to his four-match domestic ban for racist comments. Di Matteo is considering bringing Terry straight back into the team, although his decision may be made for him if Luiz fails to recover from the ankle injury that ruled him out at the weekend.
Shakhtar have no such selection problems with a clean bill of health given to the five regular first team players who started in their 2-0 win over Metalurh Zaporizhya on Saturday. Coach Mirceu Lucescu was able to rest his first choice goalkeeper and defensive midfielder and all of his favoured front four, ensuring they will come fresh into the match at Stamford Bridge.
Like Chelsea, Shakhtar employ a 4-2-3-1 formation, albeit one that displays more cohesive movement in the attacking third that the still inchoate Chelsea form.
Shakhtar’s left winger Willian likes to drift infield between the lines and Chelsea really struggled to deal with this threat two weeks ago. As he comes in onto his favoured right foot, the central attacking midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan pushes forward, ready to receive the ball just outside the area.
Mkhitaryan has scored 16 goals in 15 Champions League and Ukrainian league matches so far this season and had a number of efforts on goal from the edge of the area saved by Petr Cech in the first match between the sides. His shots are nearly always on target and Chelsea must be wary of providing him with space to take aim on Wednesday.
Shakhtar’s primary flaw is the lack of pace in the centre of their defence. That is something Chelsea may have taken advantage of in the Ukraine had they possessed a striker with either more confidence or a better touch than Fernando Torres, who put in a startlingly inept performance. If Chelsea can get the speedy Ramires running ahead of the forwards then they could reap more benefit at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea v Shakhtar Donetsk Betting Tips Verdict
Anything less than a victory in this match will leave Chelsea needing to get something away to Juventus to keep their Champions League hopes alive. But they will face a tough task obtaining three points against a well-oiled Shakhtar team who have already displayed an ability to take advantage of the Blues’ deficiencies.
Chelsea supporters may not want to hear it, but Shakhtar have enough talent in their ranks to escape from Stamford Bridge with a point.